- From our 30s, we start losing 3-5% of muscle mass per decade.1 Less muscle can lead to greater weakness and loss of mobility.
- Bone mass starts to decline from the age of 40. By the age of 65, some women have lost around half of their bone mass.2
- Important joints such as hips and shoulders also become less flexible. From the age of 55, range of hip movement declines by 6-7 degrees per decade,3 which affects movements like bending over, standing up, climbing stairs and walking. Range of movement in the shoulders declines 5-6 degrees per decade3 – this affects our ability to reach up, behind and to the sides.
Watch this video from the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy to learn more about the importance of maintaining muscle strength as you get older.
Benefits of maintaining muscle strength in your 50s and beyond
Stronger muscles can help you to live longer. Research has shown that people with weaker muscles can be 50% more likely to die earlier than people with good muscle strength.4 Regular exercise could also add 5 years to your life expectancy.5
As we get older our metabolism slows down, making it more challenging to maintain a healthy weight. Hormonal shifts occur for both men and women, creating more fat around the stomach and reducing bone density, muscle mass and overall strength. Building strength exercises into your weekly routine can burn calories as well as helping to control hormones, ensuring muscles and bones are able to cope with everyday demands whilst supporting a healthy weight.
Strength training can help to keep weight gain at bay, build muscle tone, and reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.6 As a result, you'll likely look and feel much younger than your real age!
If you're experiencing pain in muscles and joints now, you can expect it to get worse over time unless you start building muscle strength. The idea that exercise can make chronic pain worse is a common misconception - it can in fact be more effective than medication for managing certain types of pain (please note that you should always consult your GP before starting an exercise program if you are already experiencing muscle pain, and before making any changes to prescribed medication).
Strength-building exercise can boost the strength of your immune system as well as your muscles, helping you to fight off disease.
Healthy joints and bones
Maintaining your strength by training correctly can improve joint lubrication and strengthen surrounding muscles, keeping your joints healthy and strong. You'll also strengthen your bones, which is crucial when getting older.
Building up your strength with exercise can help you to feel better. Not just because of the benefits above; you'll also increase the 'feel good' chemicals known as endorphins. Plus, you'll enjoy a serotonin boost after an exercise session. Exercise, combined with these hormones, helps to combat depression and other mental health problems. Who knows? You might just meet some like-minded people along the way. Socialising is important for health, and exercise is a wonderful way to do that.
Functioning better in everyday life
Strengthening exercises can allow you to function better in everyday life. If you don't keep your muscles strong and healthy, things you take for granted now may become impossible as you get older. Maintaining good muscle strength enables you to continue carrying on with the DIY, household chores and looking after grandchildren with fewer aches and pains.
Staying mobile and physically independent
By keeping up your strength with regular exercise, you can remain physically independent, doing all of the things you do for yourself now. Inactivity is linked to so many risk factors for independence in the future but the rate at which we all decline can be slowed significantly by building strength and fitness and the good news is, it's never too late!
1) Harvard Health Publishing (2016) Declining muscle mass is part of aging, but that does not mean you are helpless to stop it. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/preserve-your-muscle-mass
2) Campbell, B. J. (2021) Healthy Bones at Every Age. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/staying-healthy/healthy-bones-at-every-age/
3) Stathokostas, L., McDonald, M. W., Little, R. M., & Paterson, D. H. (2013). Flexibility of older adults aged 55-86 years and the influence of physical activity. Journal of Aging Research, 2013, 743843. https://doi.org/10.1155/2013/743843
4) Duchowny, K. (2019). Do nationally representative cutpoints for clinical muscle weakness predict mortality? Results from 9 years of follow-up in the health and retirement study. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, 74(7), 1070-1075. https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/gly169
5) Holme, I., & Anderssen, S. A. (2015). Increases in physical activity is as important as smoking cessation for reduction in total mortality in elderly men: 12 years of follow-up of the Oslo II study. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 49(11), 743-748.
6) Crane, J. D., MacNeil, L. G., Lally, J. S., Ford, R. J., Bujak, A. L., Brar, I. K., Kemp, B. E., Raha, S., Steinberg, G. R., & Tarnopolsky, M. A. (2015). Exercise-stimulated interleukin-15 is controlled by AMPK and regulates skin metabolism and aging. Aging cell, 14(4), 625–634. https://doi.org/10.1111/acel.12341